Brian Ireland: research statement

I have been actively researching for about twelve years, and I’ve written about such diverse topics as the US Military in Hawaii, war memorials, road movies, horror and science fiction stories and comic books. I’ve presented papers at conferences in Wyoming, Edinburgh and Honolulu, and I’ve received a number of awards including a Centre for Asia-Pacific Exchange scholarship, an Access to College Excellence award, and the Carl Bode Journal Award for 2003.

I am currently working on two related research projects:

A history of the Hippie Trail (c.1955-1979): The hippie trail to Morocco, Afghanistan, Nepal, India and other points east, flourished between 1957 when Jack Kerouac published his influential road narrative On the Road and 1979 when the Iranian Revolution closed the land route from Europe to India. North American and European travellers used VW vans, motorbikes and Land Rovers to travel East and their exploits quickly became a media cliché. In popular consciousness, knowledge of the hippy trail is based mainly on stereotypical images of drug use and sexual encounters. To date, however, the hippie trail has not been the subject of serious scholarly attention. Who were these travelers and why did they travel? What routes did they take? What impact did they make on the local population, and vice versa? How have their experiences been recorded and depicted? What is the enduring legacy of these alternative forms of tourism?

American road narratives (1957- ): The United States of America is a nation created by travellers. They came across the oceans from Europe, and when they landed they continued their journey into the continent’s interior. Waves of immigrants from all over the world arrived in the United States, all hoping to achieve the American Dream of social mobility — the idea that anyone can be successful in America if they work hard enough in a land of unending opportunity. However, some did not come willingly: the slave trade bought perhaps 10-15 million Africans to the Americas and around 388,000 were landed in mainland north America so that by 1860 the slave population had grown to nearly 5 million. They had their own dream — to escape slavery, and many fled north and west to achieve this. Later, between the two world wars, perhaps as many as 2 million African-Americans headed north to escape the grinding poverty of the depression. At the same time, many poor whites in the south and mid-west went in a different direction — westwards, in hopes of finding their American Dream in California. The history of America is, then, one of movement and migration, and this is reflected in an extensive body of work consisting of travel writing, novels, short stories, songs, television and film. I’m currently working on a book-length project on this subject. In particular I’m exploring if the rootless culture noted above is a particularly American phenomenon or if it is an expression of a wider human wanderlust.